Queer film finds its focus with the Cinemarosa series at the Queens Museum of Art.
Gonzalo Casals (l.), Presana Reddy, QMA’s Dir. of Public events and Hector Canonge during the cocktail reception.
By Michael Rehak
As a filmmaker and gay man, Astoria native Hector Canonge knows queer cinema. So it’s fitting that he created Cinemarosa, Queens’ only queer film series. By doing so, he’s provided a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can be educated about the history and culture they’re a part of.
Canonge began Cinemarosa in May 2004 at the Queens Pride House in Woodside. The event began in a small room where about a dozen people would gather each month to watch independent documentary and fictional films, and discuss related topics with the directors who created the works.
Having drawn larger crowds since the initiative began, Canonge convinced the Queens Museum of Art to provide its auditorium for the series earlier this year. Each month a different theme is emphasized that deals with topics of politics, marriage, adoption and love-all from a queer perspective.
The directors and others from behind the scenes are usually on hand at the screenings, holding a forum that not only serves as discussion of the movies but educates both the young and old about history, trends and the future of the gay community.
Canonge attributes much of Cinemarosa’s success to his friend, Gonzalo Casals.
“He’s been my right-hand man,” says Canonge. “He’s helped with advertising and design ever since I moved to the museum.”
Canonge feels that the younger generation of gay immigrants, who can get “kind of lost going to bars and clubs,” can learn about the way of life still not fully embraced in current society.
Hector Canonge (l.) and gay pioneers Randy Wicker and Pyrrhus Ruches at the cocktail reception in the museum’s Unisphere gallery.
September’s screenings of two independent documentaries, “Gay Pioneers” and “Gay Sex in the 70’s,” dealt with how the gay community reacted before and after the Stonewall demonstrations, and how a revolution was transformed with the AIDS epidemic.
“When AIDS came into the picture, it hit the gay community pretty hard,” Canonge says. “It slowed down many issues and made the community aware that certain behaviors can have repercussions.”
Now, with advancements in medication and treatment of the deadly disease, Canonge said the younger generation of gays has almost forgotten that it still exists. He hopes his screenings will educate, through film, as to what many might only vaguely understand.
“I lived in Queens for many years, and upon my return, I realized that the gay and lesbian population of Jackson Heights, Woodside, Elmhurst, Forest Hills and Astoria had exploded, and that young LGBT people from all over the world were flocking the streets, bars, and clubs of Roosevelt and beyond,” he says. “It was time to show movies related to that experience. If people wanted to go and see a queer film, they had to go to Manhattan, and many of them did not find the information or the motivation to go there. There wasn’t, and still isn’t, a cultural arts center that caters to LGBT peoples of all ages in this borough. Yes, there are LGBT organizations, but their focus lies somewhere else.”
A Little Screening Room
Convincing the Queens Museum of Art that Cinemarosa would fit in wasn’t easy at first.
“At the beginning, they were reluctant, but I had to sell it to them that this is a part of the community,” says Canonge. “I’m very happy with the turn-out we had at QMA. The museum, its director and staff have been very supportive from the moment the series was moved to that prestigious organization. Though it is located in the center of the park, people and groups have made their way to our monthly presentations. QMA is an institution that best represents the multicultural groups in the borough, it fosters many exhibitions that help Queens’ artists and it fits perfectly with the mission, the goals and future objectives of Cinemarosa.”
Hector Canonge and gay pioneer Randy Wicker during the Q & A session after the screening of “Gay Sex in the 70’s.” Photos by Don Castro
Canonge has begun the application process to turn Cinemarosa into a not-for-profit organization. He’s also actively looking for a permanent venue where he can not only continue Cinemarosa, but also have a media center where people can learn about filmmaking through workshops.
“I’d like to create a center where queer people can come, a place where people can feel at home,” he says.
Something Canonge says he also needs is a group that will sponsor his not-for-profit. Other than what he is allowed to use at the QMA, Canonge doesn’t yet own the necessary equipment needed for his media center dream.
“I would like to pair up with an organization that would offer space and equipment,” he says.
Until then, he has already lined up three Cinemarosa events for the remainder of the year.
October’s event focuses on the gay community’s celebration of the Oct. 11 “Coming Out Day.” With that in mind, Canonge will feature two movies: “29th and Gay,” and “The D Word,” which both focus on coming out issues.
November’s lineup involves two films that deal with issues of gay marriage and December’s screenings coincide with international AIDS awareness events.
Cinemarosa is held the third Sunday of the month at 3 p.m. at the Queens Museum of Art. For more information go to www.cinemarosa.org. Admission is free.